Dear Readers,Welcome to the weekly Syria Deeply newsletter. We’ve rounded up the most important stories and developments about Syria and the Syrians in order to bring you valuable news and analysis. But first, here is a brief overview of what happened this week:Delegates from the Syrian government and the opposition met in the Kazakh capital of Astana on Monday for peace talks organized by Russia and Turkey. After less than two days of negotiations, Russia, Turkey and Iran announced that they had reached an agreement to enforce the nationwide cease-fire in Syria that has somewhat been in place since the fall of eastern Aleppo last month.The statement given on the Astana agreement gave little indication of how the cease-fire would be maintained and monitored. It called on opposition groups to distance themselves from the so-called Islamic State and the former al-Qaida affiliate, but did not specify what measures would be taken to ensure this.Following the Astana talks, Russia said it presented the opposition with a new draft of the Syrian constitution, which rebel groups later said they rejected. The talks were expected to be a precursor to United Nations-backed negotiations in Geneva early next month for a political settlement. However, on Friday, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that the Geneva talks would be postponed.As the rebel delegation engaged in negotiations this week, armed opposition groups on the ground clashed with the former al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS). On Wednesday, JFS accused rebels – some of whom were attending peace talks in Astana – of conspiring against it and attacked their positions in the western Aleppo countryside and in Idlib. After the initial attack, five rebel factions in northern Syria joined forces with major faction Ahrar al-Sham to fight against JFS.
Chief opposition negotiator Mohammed Alloush (center) of the Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) rebel group attends the first session of Syria peace talks at Astana’s Rixos President Hotel on Jan. 23, 2017. AFP/Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV
A picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on January 25, 2014, shows Syrians who had fled their homes due to fighting returning to their houses in the Barzeh neighbourhood of the capital Damascus. AFP/HO/SANA